‘The handbrake is still on’: why Imhotep’s European bronze is precursor to even greater things

  • When Charlotte Dujardin entered the Riesenbeck arena for her grand prix special test at the European Dressage Championships, she knew what a gargantuan effort it would take to make the podium.

    Jessica von Bredow-Werndl had just logged a personal best score of 85.6% on her ever-improving 16-year-old TSF Dalera BB; the world champion Lottie Fry had gone close to her Herning score, while Charlotte’s ride Imhotep was contesting only his sixth grand prix special. But they finished with the bronze medal, behind Jessica’s superlative performance and last-to-go Nanna Skodborg-Merrald on Blue Hors Zepter, who scored a personal best of 82.59%.

    In this 10-year-old Everdale gelding’s short international career, Imhotep (Pete) has never let Charlotte down. Sixth at the World Championships last autumn; in the medals here. Every time he goes into the ring, he improves, and his work is now really starting to dazzle the judges. His solid, correct test was also expressive and powerful, giving hints of the even bigger scores yet to come.

    Imhotep waltzed in through the clapping and stamping as Jessica left the arena, seemingly without a care in the world, and promptly posted a bunch of nines and a 10 from C judge Isobel Wessels for his first halt. But Charlotte described just what a challenge it was for him to keep his focus.

    “You could feel the vibe today, with people cheering and clapping; it takes a lot for a horse to go in that environment, and I just have to hold his hand as he’s insecure,” she said.

    Valegro was a true freak; he didn’t bat an eyelid at anything. I pressed 10 and off he went for a 10. Imhotep is an amazing horse to ride, but I can’t quite press 10 yet, because he’ll go ‘Aaaagh’. To be thrown in the deep end like he has been, he has a heart of gold, and just wants to work with me all the time.”

    Whether Charlotte pressed the button or not, 10s he did score, including one for the left pirouette, and four for their final halt to round off a brilliant performance. But what was almost more impressive was their consistency across the board. Charlotte called it a “mistake-free-ish” test, and they never dropped below 7.5, with a proliferation of nines throughout the movements.

    Charlotte underlined her mastery at never throwing a mark away. Imhotep may still be restrained from showing quite how spectacular he can be in a test, but already his passage is so bouncy, his half-passes so reaching and pirouettes so precise.

    European Dressage Championships: Charlotte Dujardin ‘super excited’ about Paris

    Charlotte admitted she still has the “handbrake on”.

    “I can’t take it off because he’s still so unbalanced – that’s all to come when he gets more experience and is stronger physically,” she said. “I just have to help him through it and keep him confident, which I feel I did.

    “Next year is going to be so exciting because there is heaps more to come from him. This year, I’ve literally been back in the saddle a few months [after having a baby] so I just came here thinking, ‘I am going to enjoy every minute and do our best’.

    “The horses above me are 15 and 16 years old and have been doing this a lot longer than Pete. To be sitting here with a medal round my neck, with a horse that is so inexperienced makes me so proud of him.”

    The prospect of the 2024 Olympics with the current string of British horses is also warming the cockles. With gold in the team competition yesterday (7 September), today in the special, Lottie Fry (Glamourdale) and Carl Hester (Fame) also both posted plus-80% scores to finish fourth and fifth respectively.

    “The Brits now have three horses who can do an individual test for an 80 – and next year [in Paris] both the grand prix and the grand prix special will count,” said Charlotte. “It’s super, super exciting; we couldn’t have asked for any more, and I’m so proud of all our horses.”

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